Need to breed new species: User Experience Professionals

I have a gut feeling that 2008 will cry for a new breed of IT people called User Experience Professional. These people should be  experienced professional Web designers with some knowledge of programming. I already see some serious changes in the process of designing front ends for such boring business Web applications as pension plan management system or a stock trading application.

In the past, a group of programmers would quickly put together (to the best of their design abilities) a wireframe of an application to be developed, discuss the functionality with the users and would start coding. Now it’s slowly changing. Recently, I’ve been running Adobe Flex training for one of the major Wall Street firm. Java programmers were in the audience, we’ve discussed specifics of the integration of the new front end with their J2EE systems, and then I asked them if they took care of the screen design yet. And they showed me a design document. I was speechless – this was clearly the best screen design document I’ve ever seen in my 25 year career in IT. Very neatly done, eye-candy looking screens color schemes were impeccable. They’ve hired a third party firm that does just this – design of user experience.

With emerging of such development tools as Adobe Flex and Microsoft Silverlight we’ll see more people from an artistic crowd (Photoshop Illustrator, AfterEffects, Flash Professional) starting getting their hands dirty with more developer targeted tools like Adobe Flex Builder or Microsoft Expression Studio.

As of today, many Web designers suffer from the lack of knowledge of programming languages (i.e. ActionScript 3) that may be required to get hired for the next gig.
While the merger of Adobe and Macromedia was made in heaven, the skills of developers and designers are not merging that easily and Adobe has to pay more attention to creating some bridging tools that would allow designers fill comfortable in Flex Builder. Microsoft has done a better job in this regard – I’ve seen a presentation nade by a Web designer (not a programmer) of their Express Studio. He felt there at home. Microsoft has their own challenges though – how to bring predominantly Adobe-ish designers to their RIA and User Experience development tools.

Slowly but surely the most active Web designers will start learning development tools. They’ll do it for a very simple and pragmatic reason – to increase their employability.

I’ve created a new users group on Rich Internet Applications under the umbrella of NYSIA – New York Software Industry Association (we’ll have our first meeting on October 9 ). While most of the times I’ll be inviting software developers to present on such emerging technologies and techniques as AJAX, Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight, JavaFX, OpenLaszlo, I’ll definitely would love to have there presentations on User Experience at it best circa 2007.
I am very much interested in learning some tricks of the trade of these mysterious people called Designers. If you are a User Experience Expert and would like to speak at this new RIA users group, please let me know.

Yakov Fain

2 thoughts on “Need to breed new species: User Experience Professionals

  1. IT always had 2 sides – front office and back office. Other difference is that IT applications (sales/business force automation, etc.) has often criterias different from falling in love on first site – productivity, flexibilty and robustness as typical criterias. The “UI design first” approach, especially done by 3rd party company specializing in media is great – but can be a burden as well.

    I personally believe that the only way to design IT software is by “eat your own dog food” approach – that is by making devlopers to go through design, development, testing and support stages in the project lifecycle. They MUST to be involved in multiple aspects – not just coding or particular technolgy.

    Here is my observation of the current state of people forced into separate UI experience group ( Flex developers ) – they go stale. By that I mean that there is no virtually differnce in productivity, code quality or design quality of the person doing Flex for a month or a year. The coding done from predefined artwork limits creativity – while separation from the back-end coding limits functionality.

    The solution I got working to bridge designers and UI develers is to build up common language using code generators and dynamic nature of the scripting. You really can get designers involved in the programming – by turnng business part of the application – lookups, business components, etc. into the “styles” – making indistinguishable from CSS. You can eliminate 70% of the client and server code if FLEX developer and not the Struts specialist will define communication framework. By making sure that each person has 2 or more “skills” you can make your environment productive and fun – people will able to share common interests in work again


  2. It’s interesting to see how the s/w industry is evolving.
    – 80’s -> make technology available to the masses
    – 90’s -> use technology by the masses
    – 00’s -> make technology USABLE by the masses

    Users have gotten screwed up till now. UIs were typically how the developer saw the data in the the database. I never pitch RIAs as being faster to develop, s/w development usability for the developer has matured… now it’s time to make s/w usable for the user.

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